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Annapurna Sanctuary

Duration                               10 days

Max Elevation                      4095 m

Standard                                medium

Season                                   October to November, March to April

Start                                       Phedi

Finish                                    Naya Pul

Summary                              Trek through villages, then climb through forests into the Annapurna Sanctuary, a valley surrounded by high Himalayan peaks. This trek offers a great opportunity to get into the mountains without the altitude problems of the Everest region.

The route to Annapurna Sanctuary (Annapuma Deuthali in Nepali), the site of the  Annapurna south face base camp, is a spectacular short trek. Although it has some steep climbs and crosses a few narrow, bridges, the trek is not difficult.

The trek to the Annapurna Sanctuary traverses a variety of terrain, from lowland , villages and rice terraces to glaciers, and offers outstanding high mountain views. You can make the trek from Pokhara to Annapurna base camp and back in as few as 10 days, but it is best to allow two weeks to fully appreciate the high-altitude scenery. A diversion to Ghorapani on the return route provides a view of Dhaulagiri from Poon Hill .

PLANNING

When to Trek

The major problem with this trek is that it can become impassable because of snow and avalanches in winter and early spring. If there is snow, it’s possible you won’t get beyond Doban, otherwise the trek is doable throughout the normal trekking season.

Emergency Facilities

There are telephones as far as Chhomrong, but no communication facilities in the sanctuary. In an emergency you can send a message asking for evacuation from a helipad in Kuldi or Machhapuchhare base camp.

Accommodation

There are frequent teashops, sometimes five or 10 minutes apart, and you will rarely walk for as long as an hour without finding some source of refreshment. The lodges extend all the way into the Annapurna Sanctuary, except in winter when the hotel-keepers retreat to their homes in Chhomrong.

Beyond Ghandruk most of the hotels in winter serve meals on a large communal table with a heater under it. In the sanctuary the heater is often a kerosene pressure stove, which is noisy, smelly and can consume all the oxygen in the room. Open enough doors and windows to ensure there is sufficient ventilation in the dining room. Because ACAP has limited the size of hotels above Chhomrong, you might not find a room and may be invited to spend the night in a lodge dining room or a tent. In’ this event, you’ll be more comfortable if you have your own sleeping bag.

ACCESS

Take a taxi or bus for 10 to 15 minutes from Pokhara along the Baglung road through Annapurna Sanctuary Hyangja to a couple of shacks known as Phedi, then continue a few hundred metres along the road to a taxi stand. Here you will find the Dhampus Mailee Hotel, a small cluster of local-style hotels and a mineral-water bottling plant.The start of the trail is obvious, heading up the hill on a set of steps to the west of the car park in front of the hotel.

THE TREK

Day 1: Phedi to Tolka

6-7 hours, 1030m ascent, 370m descent The entire region from Phedi, on the valley floor, to the top of the hill is commonly known as Dhampus, but the main part of Dhampus village is on the top of the ridge, more than 500m above. The area is inhabited by Brahmans, Chhetris and a few Gurungs. Starting at an elevation of 1130m, in a forest so overgrazed that it looks like a manicured municipal park, the trail climbs steeply for about 45 minutes to the tiny Mina Lodge. It becomes less steep as it follows a stone staircase through fields past scattered houses, then climbs over a wall to a small temple. Here a sign directs you to the steep uphill trail to Dhampus. Trek past the Ever-green Restaurant and more houses to another trail junction where a steep uphill trail leads to the main part of Dhampus, on top of the ridge at 1700m. You are rewarded with great mountain views, which continue to improve as you ascend along the ridge. There is an ACAP checkpost and a few hotels at this end of Dhampus, including the Lali Gurus Restaurant and the Ker & Downey Basanta Lodge. Follow along the ridge to a small lake, camp site, hotel complex, police checkpost and the large Dhaulagiri View Hotel, perched atop a hillock.

The trail climbs to a small teashop that announces itself as the end point of Dhampus. The route enters a damp rhododendron forest and follows a trail paved with stones. There are no hotels for about an hour as the trail makes a steep climb to Pothana, a large collection of hotels at 1990m. Just before Pothana is an inconspicuous trail junction this is a trail that leads to the ‘Australian Camp’ and a route back to the Baglung road at Khare. The view of Machhapuchhare (6997m), the ‘fish tail’ mountain (from machha, ‘fish’, andpuchhare, ‘tail’), is excellent from Pothana, except that from this angle it looks more like the Matterhorn than 1 a fish tail. To see the mountain in its proper perspective you must wait several days until you get into the Annapurna Sanctuary. You can spend the night in the Annapurna Lodge, Heavens Gate or one of Pothana’s other hotels to get a good view in the morning from the tower atop a hotel. Most hotels from now on boast large billboard-style maps of the region that portray the route to the sanctuary with varying degrees of accuracy and provide their own version of estimated walking times throughout the area.

The trail climbs on a stone-paved trail  through forests to two lodges at Deorali atop a hill at 2150m, where there are view of Annapurna South and Hiunchuli. Make-steep descent through forests alive with birds, ferns and orchids into a huge side canyon of the Modi. Khola. Descend past the Archana Guest House and down a rough stone trail to another lodge in a forest clearing. The trail keeps going down to the Sundara Guest House and several large teahouses at Bheri Kharka, a suburb of the large Gurung village of Bichok, which is far below. Descend to the head of the canyon and cross a stream at 1790m. The trail climbs gently out of the side canyon on flagstone steps. Climb further to some teashops on a ridge where the trail emerges into the main Modi valley. A short distance below is the Namaste Tourist Guest House in the first of several clusters of hotels that comprise Tolka, a small settlement at 1790m. The trail descends through the village, passing the Hilltop Ram Lodge, the school and the camp site, then down to the Hira Lodge, Babu Lodge and the International Guest House.

Day 2: Tolka to Chhomrong

6-7 hours, 450m descent, 870m ascent The trail descends a long stone staircase to a suspension bridge across the Tigu Khola at 1720m, then climbs through forests to a ridge. It’s then an easy walk past streams, fields and some unusual oval-shaped houses. You can see the Modi Khola far below and the houses of Jhinu Danda halfway up the hill far ahead. Make a long traverse to the school, cross the Ghora Khola on a suspension bridge and you will be in the hotel complex at the top of Landruk, a Gurung village at 1620m. There is a large choice of hotels here; the best ones are above the village and include the Footrest, Lali Guras and Hungry Eye, all in whitewashed stone buildings. Along the trail you will probably meet people collecting money for schools. They will produce a ledger book showing the donations of other trekkers and enter your contribution into their records. The donations may be legitimate, but it is an adult version of the creative forms of begging that tourists have encouraged.

Descend the stone staircase through the paved courtyards of Landruk past the Mount View Hotel to the small Hotel Himalaya, 10 minutes below the village at 1560m. The trail to the sanctuary leads away to the right, just behind the hotel. There may be a signpost pointing the way north to Chhomrong and another pointing down the hill to Ghandruk.

The downhill trail leads to the river and then climbs to Ghandruk. You can see Ghandruk high above you on the opposite side of the river. Ask someone in Landruk about the bridge at Naya Pul. It was washed away during the 2000 monsoon and it still may be necessary to take an alternate route to reach Chhomrong. If the bridge is still out, descend to the Modi Khola, climb a bit and follow a trail north along the west bank to join the normal route near Naya Pul.

The usual trail to the sanctuary turns north up the Modi valley, passing alongside rice terraces, then through forests, to Himal Pani and the rustic Namaste Lodge. A short walk up the river bed leads to Naya Pul (New Bridge), also known as Shiuli, at 1340m. There are several substantial hotels here on both sides of the suspension bridge that was built in about 1985. The trail climbs steeply to Samrung, then crosses a stream at 1430m on a cement bridge. This is the lower part of the Khumnu Khola, but here it is known as the Kladi Khola.

A stiff climb leads to Jhinu Danda, where there are several hotels on a ridge at 1750m. There is a hot spring with cement bathing pools about 15 minutes downhill (and 30 minutes back up) on a side trail; ask a lodge owner about it. You can see houses on the top of the ridge far above this is your next destination. It is a long, steep climb, broken only by a few teahouses, to a cluster of teashops at Taglung, atop the treeless ridge at 2190m. The trek now joins the Ghandruk to Chhomrong route, so the trail is wider for the short walk to Chhomrong.

A short distance from Taglung are the Panorama Point and Himalayan View lodges, then the trail rounds a bend and enters the upper part of Chhomrong. This Gurung village has evolved into three distinct parts. The Excellent View, International and Kala-pana lodges are at the top of Chhomrong at 2210m. They all have slate patios, private rooms and dining rooms with picture windows overlooking a spectacular panoramic view of Annapurna South, Hiunchuli and Machhapuchhare.

A bit below is the school, a helicopter pad, a larger collection of hotels and some small shops. The large Chhomrong Guest House advertises its hot pizza with a huge sign on the roof. The only telephone in town is at the Moon Light Lodge. Descend on a long staircase past the Garden Villa to the houses of old Chhomrong at 2010m. Here you’ll find a well-stocked shop, a kerosene depot and the ACAP check-post. The only hotel here is Captain Lodge, Chhomrong’s original trekkers hotel.

Some hotels also rent equipment like gaiters, gloves, sleeping bags and down jackets be sure you have warm clothing before you go on. ACAP regulations prohibit the use of firewood beyond Ghandruk, so all trekkers and hotels must cook with gas or kerosene. If you are camping, you can buy fuel and rent Indian pressure stoves and plastic jerry cans at Chhomrong. If you are staying in hotels, the hotelier will take care of the fuel problem. Beyond Chhomrong, camping is restricted to ACAP-designated camp sites and hotel construction is strictly controlled.

This is the highest permanent settlement in the valley, but herders take sheep and goats to upper pastures in the sanctuary during the summer.  In 1957 Wilfred Noyce and David Cox climbed Machhapuchhare to within 50m of its summit. After this attempt, the government prohibited further climbing on the mountain, so technically it remains unclimbed. A lower peak to the south, Mardi Himal (5587m), is open to trekking parties.

Day 3: Chhomrong to Bamboo

3-4 hours, 610m ascent, 510m descent Leaving Chhomrong, the trail descends on a stone staircase and crosses the Chhomrong Khola on a swaying suspension bridge at Tiptop Lodge and two other hotels alongside a stone-paved trail in Doban (2540m). Beyond Doban the trail crosses a stream and avalanche chute, then climbs across a landslide. It traverses high above the river, but this is no problem for those who suffer vertigo, because thick stands of bamboo block the view of the rushing river and waterfall. In the deep forests is a small temple where local people leave offerings of flowers, cloth or leaves. There’s a sign in Nepali saying that out of respect for the local deity, Baraha Than, one should not carry eggs or meat beyond this point. Cross a landslide and another avalanche track to reach two lodges at Himalayan Hotel (2840m). Just before the settlement you can see the debris left from an avalanche that killed a Sherpa kitchen crew in the spring of 1989. If you arrive early, it is worth trekking on to Deorali to make the following day easier.

Day 5: Himalayan Hotel to Machhapuchhare Base Camp

3-4 hours, 860m ascent From Himalayan Hotel it’s about an hour’s walk, first on a rocky trail through forests, then up a steep ravine, to Hinko at 3100m. This is called Hinko Cave because a huge overhanging rock provides some protection against rain and avalanches. There used to be a funny hotel built into the cave, but ACAP closed this facility and allowed hotels to be build in Deorali, 30 minutes beyond.

The trail crosses a ravine and a major avalanche track just beyond Hinko, then climbs through large boulders to Deorali, at 3140m, where the best of four hotels is the Panorama Guest House. Above Deorali, the valley widens and becomes less steep, and you can see the ‘gates’ to the sanctuary. After heavy snowfall, avalanches from Hiun-chuli and Annapurna South, peaks which are above this point but not visible, come crashing into the valley with frightening speed and frequency.

As the trail continues into the sanctuary, it crosses two wide avalanche tracks on a narrow trail that huddles up against the cliffs. The trail descends to meet the Modi Khola and follows the river to Bagar, a meadow and some abandoned hotels at 3270m. The normal trail follows the west side of the valley, but when an avalanche has blocked the trail it may be necessary to take an alternative route. The alternative trail crosses the river, climbs along the eastern side of the river and then recrosses on a log bridge just before Bagar. The lodge owners in Deorali can tell you when it’s necessary to take this diversion, and sometimes there is a sign on the trail to direct you. The normal trail will probably be open in October, November and late spring.

From Bagar, climb across more avalanche paths, then through a sparse birch forest. Cross a moraine and descend to a stream. A stone staircase leads to the Cosy Lodge, a German meteorological project office and a helipad. If you stay on the lower trail you’ll soon climb to the cluster of hotels that are known as Machhapuchhare base camp (3700m). These hotels, including the Fish Tail and the Gurung Co-op, may or may not be open, depending on whether the innkeeper – and the supplies – have been able to reach the hotel through the avalanche area. Most of the inns in the sanctuary close during the winter. All are operated by people from Ghandruk or Chhomrong, so you can find out in advance which, if any, are open.

The mountain views are stupendous the panorama includes Hiunchuli, Annapurna South, Annapurna I, Annapurna III (7555m), Gangapuma (7454m) and Machhapuchhare. You are now at an elevation where altitude problems may occur. It’s another 430m of elevation gain to Annapurna base camp. The best plan is to spend the night here to acclimatise and go higher the following day.

Day 6: Machhapuchhare Base Camp to Annapurna Base Camp

1-2 hours, 430m ascent The climb to Annapurna base camp four hotels on a knoll at 4130m – takes about two hours. It’s a pleasant walk, but the route can be hard to find if there’s snow. The trail follows a stream, then climbs to a few huts alongside a moraine. Shepherds stay here during the warm season and graze large flocks of sheep on the grassy slopes nearby. Before long you can see the hotels of the base camp, but the view is deceptive and it takes quite a while to reach them as the trail stays close to the foot of a large lateral moraine.

In the high trekking season the hotels here can be ridiculously crowded. Competition is still fierce and the hotel-keepers will meet you as you climb onto the plateau and try to seduce you to stay in their establishment. All have private rooms, decent loos and varied menus. They serve surprisingly good food, including high-altitude apple pie. Despite its extravagant advertising, the pizzas at the Annapurna Sanctuary Lodge are quite tasty. The area is cold, windy and often snowbound. Sometimes the snow reaches the roofs of the hotels.

There are tremendous views of the nearvertical south face of Annapurna towering above the sanctuary to the north-west. The ascent of this face in 1970 by an expedition led by Chris Bonington still remains one of the most spectacular climbs of an 8000m peak. Mornings are usually clear, but clouds often obscure the peaks by noon, then clear in the late afternoon. Walk west past the porter shelter and volleyball court to a viewpoint on the moraine for a spectacular view. Nearby is a monument to the well-known climber Anatoli Boukreev, who was killed on Christmas Day 1997 by an avalanche on the south-west face of Annapurna.

Several peaks that are accessible from the sanctuary are on the trekking peak list. Tharpu Chuli (formerly Tent Peak; 5663m) offers a commanding 360° view of the entire sanctuary. Its higher neighbour to the north is Singu Chuli (Fluted Peak; 6501m). To the south is Hiunchuli, which is also open to trekking parties. All three of these peaks present significant mountaineering challenges and require skill, equipment and planning. A less challenging but worthwhile objective is Rakshi Peak, an outcrop on the southern ridge of Tent Peak, although it’s still a difficult walk across a boulder-strewn glacier. The peak is said to have been named after Col Jimmy Roberts’ dog.

There are few birds in the sanctuary, but there are tahr, Himalayan weasels and pika.

Day 7: Annapurna Base Camp to Himalayan Hotel

4-414 hours, 1320m descent. It’s much easier going down. Even if you do some exploring in the morning, you should have no problem reaching Himalayan Hotel in a single day from Annapurna base camp.

Day 8: Himalayan Hotel to Chnomrong

5-7 hours, 1140m descent, 510m ascent Retrace your steps to Doban and back down to apple pie country, making a long, steep climb back to the top of Chhomrong.

Day 9: Chhomrong to Ghandruk

3-41/2 hours, 770m descent, 480m ascent You can return to Pokhara from Chhomrong by a variety of routes. The fastest way is to trek south to Ghandruk and down the Modi Khola to Birethanti and Naya Pul, where you can find transport back to Pokhara. A more interesting alternative is to leave this day’s route at Dhiklyo Danda and trek to Ghorapani. From Ghorapani you can either head north to Jomsom and Muktinath, or head back to Pokhara via Birethanti or via Tatopani and Beni these alternatives are described in the Jomsom trek earlier in the chapter.

To reach Ghandruk from Chhomrong, return to the trail junction near the teashops at Taglung. Stay on the wide main trail, walking west above the prosperous-looking houses and potato and wheat fields of Taglung, then descend gently through forests to a single teashop at Dhiklyo Danda (2180m). From here, the trail drops steeply on switchbacks to Khumnu (also called Kimrong) village, above the Khumnu Khola at 1810m. There are two small lodges in the village, and a teashop near the bridge.

At Khumnu, cross the bridge and stay on the left-hand trail as it climbs out of the Khumnu valley. The trail makes a steep climb through a forest on an interminable set of switchbacks to a cluster of lodges at Komrong, on a pass at 2260m. A side trail leads north-east from Komrong, following i the ridge for a distance, then dropping steeply to the Kimrong/Khumnu Khola near Naya Pul. About 25 minutes along the ridge is the Hilltown Hotel, run by Man Prasad Gurung, the local physician. One reader reported stopping here for breakfast and liking the hotel so much he stayed for four days. From Komrong it’s a long, but not steep, escent through huge boulders to a bridge over the Kyuri Khola at 2010m where the route is joined by a fork of the Ghorapani-Ghandruk trail. Turn east and climb to the Shangri La Guest House at the north-east end of Ghandruk at 1990m.

Ghandruk, with about 270 families, is the second-largest Gurung settlement in Nepal (the largest is Siklis), and is a confusing cluster of closely spaced, slate-roofed houses. There are neatly terraced fields both above and below the town. Older maps spell the village ‘Ghandrung’, but Ghandruk is the currently accepted spelling. Ghandruk is the Nepali name, but the village’s real Gurung name is Kond.

It is wonderfully easy to get lost in the network of narrow alleyways while trying to trek through Ghandruk. The lodges are scattered throughout the village and quite far apart, both in distance and elevation. There are little signboards at most trail junctions directing you to various hotels that are ‘ 1 minute away’, times that are very optimistic. There are so many lodges that it’s worth wandering around the village before you decide where to stay, but be careful of the slippery steps near the Annapurna Lodge. The Trekkers Inn wOn a ‘lodge of the year’ award from ACAP. Its neighbour, the Milan, is also excellent and, like most lodges in Ghandruk, uses kerosene and gas exclusively and has a proper septic tank to handle toilet waste. The large Manisha Hotel at the south end of town has several rooms with private bathrooms, as does the noisy Mountain View. There is a telephone office and i several camp sites near the southern end of the village.

Ghandruk has an extensive water supply with tanks, pipes and taps throughout the village. Electricity is supplied by a 50kW hydroelectric plant that is locally managed. The views of Annapurna South (Annapurna Dakshin in Nepali) from here are outstanding. Machhapuchhare, seen in its fish-tail aspect, peeps over a forested ridge. The ACAP visitor centre provides information about its activities and screens daily video shows. The Traditional Gurung Museum & Restaurant was established by a woman from Ghandruk and offers a variety of dishes and drinks unique to this region. If you are on a spending spree, try one of the carpet shops or visit the handicraft shop in the Local Youth Eco Trekking Centre, which also provides local guides and offers cultural and nature tours.

Day 10: Ghandruk to Naya Pul

4-5 hours, 1000m descent As you leave town, register your departure with the police post. Descend to a stream and water-driven mill and trek past the Hotel Bishal to an entrance arch where the trail to Landruk starts downhill on a steep
stone staircase. The trail to Birethanti leads south from here, dropping at first on a staircase, then traverses high above the river. There’s a large landslide and a stream to cross just before Chane at 1690m, where there is a small teashop. There is a trail to Tikhedhunga that starts from here it’s a five-hour walk with few facilities along the way. Descend pastil few teashops at Kimchi (1640m), where! there are souvenir shops and restaurants. Just below the village is the Nature Conservation & Human Potential Education Centre, a British project that has a small visitor centre explaining its work. Follow a ridge downhill to Kehone Danda, then to the River View Lodge in Kliu, at 1390m, and on to a suspension bridge over the Sadhu Khola, finally arriving alongside the Modi Khola at the Shikhar Guest House in Shauli Bazaar (1140m). There are several other hotels here, and numerous soft-drink and souvenir stands between here and Birethanti. If you’re walking from Birethanti to Ghandruk, this is the start of an 850m climb.

The trail is now on the bottom of the river valley, passing through a lovely birch forest, then following alongside the river on a rough trail to the extensive rice terraces of Chimrong. Continue to Lamakhet where several houses were buried by a landslide. Nearby is the Ker & Downey Sanctuary Lodge. It’s another 30 minutes to Birethanti at 1000m. The last stretch of trail is rough and rocky, down a dry stream bed to a shrine by the Modi Khola. There are often people chanting and worshipping here the shrine owes its importance to some white squiggles on a rock.

You can stay in Birethanti or head into Pokhara. It’s a 20-minute walk on the rough trail to Naya Pul, then you have to climb steeply up the hill to the road. Taxis and buses to Pokhara are available at Naya Pul well into the night.